Nourishing soups are perfect for the season. It is a good time to boost the immunity 🙂
In the western medicine, immunity is understood as a network of cells, organs and chemicals which work all together to protect the body against invaders. Two mechanisms are considered here: specific cellular immunity and nonspecific deference.
The two most important types of white cells on guard are lymphocytes and macrophages, while the most important molecular chemical components are antibodies and cytokines. Lymphocytes work with antibodies to destroy specific antigens in the cellular immunity. Macrophages work with cytokines for a general destruction of invaders, damaged cells and debris in the nonspecific immunity. In addition, there are also natural killer (NK) cells which respond rapidly to viral infected cells in the absence of antibodies. They are critical to the so-called innate or natural immunity.
T-lymphocytes (T-cells) mature in thymus (and somewhat in the tonsils as the new research suggests). Each T-cell has a programmed receptor to recognize a specific invader. There are three basic T-cells: killer T-cells, helper T-cells and suppressor T-cells (which turn off killer cells days or weeks after the infection to prevent the inflammation).
B-lymphocytes (B-cells) are produced in the bone marrow (in adults) and distributed to the lymph tissues (spleen, tonsils, etc). When B-cells attach to foreign antigens they are transformed into plasma cells and produce antibodies (IgG, IgA, IgE, IgM) specific to the particular offender. Other B-cells become memory cells which patrol the body for the future possible invasion.
While many people believe that herbs have either a weak action on the immune system or stimulate it in a wishy-washy way, the opposite is true. Individual herbs have powerful and usually specific effects on the immune system. There is a good amount of research studies showing the effectiveness of many herbs.
When it comes to the consolidated action which enhances immunity, there is hardly any other herb so powerful as astragalus (except for Siberian ginseng perhaps) and medicinal mushrooms such as shiitake.
I am a big fan of this herb because it has proven invaluable for me. The root is used in cooking, decotion and tincture.
The action of astragalus is comprehensive. It enhances the body’s own natural killer cell activity, as well as the activity of T-cells and macrophages. It stimulates immunity by increasing the production of antibodies, and encouraging the transformation of stem cells into immune cells. Astragalus also restores immune function in cancer patients with impaired immune function.
Robyn Landis and K. P. Khalsa (see below) note that ”astragalus stimulates phagocytosis (mechanism to remove invaders), increasing the total number of cells and the aggressiveness of their activity. Increased macrophage activity has been measured as lasting up to seventy-two hours. It increases the number of stem cells (the ‘generic’ cells that can become any type needed) in the marrow and lymph tissue, stimulates their maturation into active immune cells, increases spleen activity, increases releases of antibodies, and boosts the production of hormonal messenger molecules that signal for virus destruction.”
It is used both as a prevention (i.e. immune tonic) and a direct immune mobilisation when infections occur. It is helpful for cold and upper respiratory infections, and the prevention of flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia. It has a protection function for the liver both from viruses and side effects of medication. In China it has been used along side of chemotherapy and radiation thanks to its ability to stimulate the production of bone marrow (hence red and white cells).
Contraindication for using Astragalus is when you are on immunosuppressive drugs or a nursing mother. Caution is needed, and a careful dose, in case of high fever.
Shiitake mushrooms are also all-round mobilisers and strengtheners of the immune system against viruses, bacteria, cancer, and parasites. Lentinan, one of the major “ingredient”, stimulates both the production of T-cells and their aggressiveness, as well as boots the action of natural killer cells, and macrophages.They also have anti-cancer activity, preventing metastasis of cancer to the lungs.
Immunity boosting soup
To make the soup you need at least dried astragalus, ginger root, and vegetables, especially the root vegetables. Shiitake and reishi mushrooms are great but you can stay with the astragalus only.
- 1 onion, minced
- 1 bulb garlic (at least 10 cloves), minced
- 2-5 vegetables of choice, e.g. parsnip, a piece of swede, carrot, celery, beetroot, sweet potato
- 1 piece of fresh ginger root (1½-inch, 3½ cm)
- 5 pieces sliced dried astragalus root or 3 Tbsp of cut astragalus root
- 1-2 cups fresh, sliced shiitake mushrooms (or 1 cup dried)
- 1 large reishi mushroom, if available
- 1-2 cups of broth or stock
- 1.5 -2 litres of water
- Herbs: marjoram, thyme, basil, curcuma powder and cayenne powder, if desired
- Dice garlic and onion. Shred ginger. Melt butter (or heat oil) and sauté garlic, onion and ginger until soft and aromatic.
- Bring water and broth to boil in a pot.
- Add the sauted mix, astragalus, shiitake and reishi mushrooms to the pot. Cover with a lid and simmer for 1h 30min hours.
- Dice vegetables and add to the pot together with salt and the herbs of choice, e.g. marjoram, thyme and rosemary. Cover with lid and simmer for further 30min.
- Remove from heat and allow to sit for 2 hours more.
- Remove astragalus and reihi mushroom.
- Reheat, add additional salt, pepper, curcuma and cayenne if desired.
Since ginger is very warming and opening the pores in the skin, please stay warm after the soup. It is ideal to eat it as an afternoon or evening meal. If you go outside into a windy/cold weather, please dress warmly with a scarf on the neck.
Where to buy:
- A list of more than 600 references on Astragalus can be found here.
- David Hoffman, Medical Herbalism – the science and practice of herbal medicine. Healing Arts Press, 2003.
- D. Winston and S. Maimes. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Healing Arts Press, 2007.
- P. Holmes The Energetics of Western Herbs: A Materia MedicaTIntrgrating Western and Chinese Herbal Therapeutics: p.1, Snow Lotus, 2007.
- R. Landis, Robyn, and K. P Khalsa. Herbal Defense. New York: Warner Books, 1997.
- J.A. Duke, The Green Pharmacy. 1998.
- Plants against liver cancer.